Editorial by The Fargo Forum

Monday, July 13, 1998

Amending the U.S. Constitution is serious business. The proposed flag desecration amendment is not. It's political business. It could even been seen as frivolous business if it weren't such a clumsy and dangerous initiative.

The U.S. Senate should reject the amendment, as it did twice before. North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, who are seen as key votes on the measure, should vote no, as they did twice before.

The amendment is a solution looking for a problem. When was the last time flag-burners made headlines? The lunacy of the 1960s is history — history, we might add, that demonstrated the enduring strength of the flag. This is the quiet 1990s. Few (any?) people are burning or otherwise desecrating flags these days. And those who might would be relegated quickly to the nut fringe.

The amendment to the Bill of Rights would be very bad precedent. It would be the first time the nation altered the Bill of Rights. And for what? It makes no sense.

Despite what amendment supporters claim, the measure makes no distinction between the principles for which the flag stands and the physical piece of cloth. It does not define specifically desecration. The amendment, therefore, has the potential to be a legal nightmare, and to be used for unintended censorship and prosecutions.

Furthermore, most acts of flag burning already are punishable under existing public burning, larceny or public property statutes. The First Amendment allows punishment for acts of desecration performed to incite a riot or to produce danger to others. More laws are not necessary.

The power of the flag is in its meaning, not in its stitchery. That meaning embodies the most precious of American rights — the right to speak freely, to disagree loudly, to perform outrageous and foolish acts, such as burning a flag.

The flag and all it means cannot be destroyed by burning cloth. But any impulse to restrict the individual rights protected by the Bill of Rights violates the flag's enduring purpose. The flag amendment is such a violation and it should be rejected.